I spent some time going through the Google book archives this morning (full text) looking for books on pastoral ministry. The number of titles on this subject is myriad. Most of them penned by earnest writers whose names are unknown to me. It is the virtual equivalent to walking past the sale table at the book store. But instead of selling the remainders for $5 a book, they are being given away.
For an author this is a little like strolling through the graveyard and meditating on the day of your death. As I scrolled through the titles wondering who these authors were and what expectations they might have had for their work, their anonymous chorus seemed to say: “Take heed, O Author. One day you shall be as we are. Your books will be dust and your name forgotten.”
Actually, that day has arrived. Some of my books are already out of print. Every so often a student comes to me and gleefully announces, “I bought your book in a used book sale for fifty cents!” I don’t know why they think such news will cheer me. But I take comfort in knowing that such a fate awaits both the small and the mighty alike. When I sort through the books on the remainder table at the bookstore I am as liable to find the famous as the obscure. “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Eccl. 12:12).
Still, I wonder about these pastors and their books. What hopes did they have for their words? They could not have imagined that centuries after their death I would read them. They are like the voice of Abel, by faith they still speak, even though they are dead.
In the same way, we have no idea who will ultimately benefit from the ministry we perform today. Everyone carries out their task in obscurity to some extent and we are not the best judge of our results. The ripple effect of some seemingly insignificant action today may touch a soul a hundred years from now. There are no small obediences.